We all know the McDonald’s jingle “you deserve a break today.” There are definitely times along your fitness journey when you need both a mental and physical break. The only problem is that if you aren’t careful, your break today can turn into a break this entire year. The same way a bad habit can be broken in 21 days, a good habit can also be broken if there is too much time spent repeating poor behavior. Activity fuels more activity, and unfortunately, laziness fuels laziness. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a lazy day, but it does mean you need to put some rules in place to prevent a downward spiral once you get a taste for the lazies.
1. Plan your time off.
If you allow your emotions or body to tell you when to take time off, you are doomed to fail. If you listen to your body, you’ll end up on the couch eating bonbons every night. Our body loves food and sleep. But if you’re like me and you want to look and feel great, you will need to remain in complete control. If you are very purposeful about your fitness breaks you can enjoy your time off while still remaining in control. By scheduling days off, vacations, and downtime, you can enjoy relaxing days without guilt because it’s all part of your plan. You know exactly when you are going to take time off, and you have a plan already in place to return to your fitness routine. Another reason to schedule time off is that there are some days your body really needs rest and there are other days it does not. By scheduling days off, you can be sure to maintain more balance. You can also plan intense workouts before your day of rest to make the most of your downtime and maximize healing. In addition, you may even notice you actually work harder the day before your “fitcation,” simply because you know you will get a rest the next day.
2. Set some boundaries for your time off.
If you have been busting it in the gym to lose weight, you will want to set some solid boundaries for the days you are taking off so you don’t erase all your hard work. For instance, you may plan one cheat meal a day (instead of three). Your boundaries may be the types of foods you eat or portion sizes. Other boundaries may include a predetermined amount of time you decide to take off, setting guidelines for the maximum number of days in a row you will allow yourself to go without exercising. Setting boundaries is an excellent way to hold yourself accountable while still enjoying a break from your normal routine.
3. Trade your activity.
Another way to protect your investment is not to skip exercise altogether but do something different, easy, and fun. Instead of completely taking off from the gym, you may want to trade your normal intense one-hour workout for a light walk on the beach with your sweetheart or choose an activity on your day off that keeps you on your feet, like playing goony golf. If you are used to lifting weights, try a relaxing yoga class instead. Taking off from your fitness routine may not mean taking off period. Another way you can mix things up is taking a break from the actual length of time you normally invest in fitness. Instead of a 90-minute workout, do a quick 10-minute high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. A short workout will still give you the feeling of taking off without the guilt of skipping altogether.
4. Plan your comeback.
One problem with taking a break is that our bodies might like the break a little too much. So it’s important that you plan the exact date and time you will return to normal. Better yet, you should return to a very clear fitness plan—complete with an exercise routine, meal plan, and a fresh set of goals. The more you have planned for your return, the more you can plan on success.
5. Have a backup plan.
As you have probably experienced yourself, our lives can be a complete mess when we return after a vacation or taking time off. I often say I need a vacation from my vacation just to recuperate from being out of town or to be able to survive my return to who-knows-what. As we come back to a pile of work on our desks and feeling like we have a lot of making up to do, it’s easy to justify putting off our workout just a little longer. This can be a dangerous excuse. It may be a good excuse, but it’s an excuse you don’t have to use. Be prepared in advance for distractions, excuses, and extra work. If you miss your first day back, have a backup plan to ensure your one missed workout doesn’t turn into a couple of weeks of you playing catch-up at work—and getting behind at the gym. Taking time off from the gym won’t kill you. As a matter of fact, it can actually help you come back stronger, refreshed, and even more focused than before—as long as you stick to your plan. If not, your “I deserve a break today” could turn into a “Super Size Me” mistake.